The most time consuming aspect of creating isometric games is the artwork because almost every single sprite needs to be drawn at 4 different angles, or 8 if the sprite is of a character. Additionally, if the sprite needs animating, such as a character walk, that animation might comprise of say, 10 frames at each of those angles. For a basic character that needs to walk in all directions, that's 80 frames to draw before we even consider running, standing, jumping, and so on. To do all of this by hand as raster art would be a nightmare.
Our solution is to create all of our sprites as 3D models in Blender, a free 3D modelling software for Windows, Mac and Linux, and then render these models out to 2D sprites by rotating the model in front of an orthographic camera.
Blender can render animations out to individual frames so for something like a walking animation it's just a case of animating within Blender, then rendering, rotating, rendering, rotating, rendering, and so on. The resulting sprites can be merged together into single spritesheets later on to use as in-game animations.
For sprites that don't need animating, such as walls, we create the rotation itself as an 8 frame animation so that a render of every angle can be obtained with a single click. This approach makes it really quick to produce isometric game art, ensures the artwork looks exactly right at each angle because you're not actually painstakingly drawing 8 alternate views of the same item, and means that for every 2D graphic in your isometric game, you've got a 3D model ready to use if you ever want to turn that game into a 3D sequel.
If this sounds like the perfect solution to you, here's how to set up an isometric rig in Blender. Alternatively, skip to the end of this post and download a copy of our pre-built rig. The scope of this tutorial isn't to teach Blender, trigonometry, pythagoras, or orthagraphics but the calculations used are shown here for reference in case you need to create a slightly different rig and produce renders of a different size to ours.
We need to set up a rotation animation so that all 8 isometric views of a sprite can be rendered out at the click of a button.
To finish off, we want to make sure all of the resulting sprites are rendered with the same lighting so it's a good idea to set that up now within the rig. Your optimal settings are somewhat dependant on what you're making, but as a general rule of thumb with isometrics we find it's a good idea to aim for very bright with a really small shadow that doesn't extend beyond a single tile. Most importantly, lighting needs to be an even spread so that tiles can fit together without weird gradient effects.
If you like our set-up but don't want to go through the whole process yourself, download our complete isometric rig for Blender. You should at least read through the above though to understand how this rig works before trying to use it.
Blog posts written by former QWeb employees are not necessarily an accurate indication of the current opinions of QWeb Ltd and the information provided in tutorials might be biased or subjective, or might become out of date.
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